The Post College Professional

Should Salary be a Priority?

Posted by Michelle McGuire on Feb 21, 2020

Tags: Early career advice

It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to choosing a career: our salaries. When we’re planning our future, we’re often told things like “find your passion” and “do what you’re good at.” We’re rarely told to think about how much money we’ll make despite the fact that getting a paycheck is one of the main reasons we’re going to work in the first place. Even if we’re doing what we love, we need a salary to pay our bills and live our lives. Where should salary fall on the priority list when looking at career paths? The answer hinges on looking past the dollar amount to figure out what exactly you get out of a salary and what you value most in a career.

What do you get out of a salary?

When it comes to salary, it’s easy to think that the higher the number the better. But there’s A LOT the dollar amount doesn’t tell you. Make sure you ask yourself these questions to get a clearer sense of the actual total:

  • What are the benefits? Did you know benefits account for about 32% of the employer cost of compensation? That means that the number you’re seeing is only part of what your employer is providing you. Make sure you’re considering benefits that matter to you like healthcare, paid leave, and retirement when looking at salaries. It will help you get a sense of what toppings are your must-haves on the salary sundae.
  • What’s the cost of living? This is a huge one! Where you live dictates things like groceries, healthcare, utilities, and housing costs. What you think is a great salary in one city may leave you scraping by in the next. Play around with cost of living calculators to see just how far your dollar will go.
  • What’s the projected salary growth? This is especially true for those of us just starting our careers. Being at the bottom of the totem pole can come with a less than desirable paycheck. Instead of nixing a career on that alone, make sure you look at projected growth by combing salary reports. It could just take a year or two to reach the level you want to be at.

What do you value in your career?

Now that you have a clearer idea of how to think about salary, let’s figure out where it falls on your priority list. This all comes down to what you prioritize at work and in your life. As you consider the following questions start making a ranked list of just how important each value is to you.

  • What do you value intrinsically in a career? This is a long-winded way of asking what gets you excited to go to work each morning. Do you need to feel aligned with the company’s mission? Do you value helping others? Do you need to feel like you’re doing good in the world? Do you crave variety and change? Think about what you want work to look like outside of the perks.
  • What do you value extrinsically in a career? Speaking of perks, this is where the tangible rewards come in. Consider how much weight you give to things like your salary (keeping in mind everything you get out of it), work travel, status, network, and promotions.

Remember that there’s no right answer to any of these questions. They’re simply intended to guide your thinking around the tricky topic of salary. The short answer is you can make salary just as much of a priority as you want it to be as long as it works for you and what you want out of your career.

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